Jenson Button unveils new McLaren, predicts close fight
McLaren stars launch new F1 car
By Andrew Benson
BBC Sport in Newbury
World champion Jenson Button predicted one of the closest seasons in Formula 1 history as he prepares his defence with the new McLaren he unveiled on Friday.
Button faces competition from team-mate Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher at Mercedes and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Button said: "It's been quite a while since we had four world champions on the grid. It's possibly the most exciting we've ever seen."
Hamilton added: "Hopefully we'll push the team to both championships."
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he was optimistic the team's new MP4-25 car, which was revealed at the Newbury headquarters of title sponsor Vodafone, would enable both drivers to fight for the title.
That was not the case last year, when McLaren started the season over two seconds off the pace.
Whitmarsh said: "There are four world champions racing this year and that's exciting.
The start of 2009 was so difficult for McLaren but that's good because it makes them even hungrier for success in 2010
World champion Jenson Button
"Everyone now wants to see McLaren fighting Ferrari and Mercedes and I'm sure Red Bull will be competitive. We've got a really exciting season on our hands."
McLaren acknowledged that one of the biggest obstacles to them winning the championship could be the internal competition between the drivers.
That could cause friction within the team as each strives to establish primacy, and may also allow another driver to sneak in and win the championship.
Both situations have happened at McLaren as recently as 2007, when Hamilton and then team-mate Fernando Alonso fought so hard that Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen made up a 17-point deficit in the last two races to clinch the title.
But the drivers said they intended to work together to ensure the team was in the best position.
"For us, it's so important to work together as a team or you're not going to get a British world champion," Button said.
Button and Hamilton insist they will work together at McLaren
"We have so much experience, we have both been in different situations. You will see at the end of the year who has done the best job over 19 races, but there is no point thinking about that now."
Hamilton added: "In 2007 we didn't work together well enough, in some cases we didn't work together for the team.
"Of course we understand we want to beat each other but we want to get to the end of the year with the team winning the constructors' championship and one of us winning the drivers' championship.
"If we understand that, hopefully it will be a lot better."
Button has arrived at McLaren after winning the title with Brawn, who race as Mercedes this season, to give McLaren an all-English pairing.
Hamilton and Button were making their first public appearance together as team-mates.
"It's very special with the number 1 on the car but we need to start looking to the future," said Button, 30.
"You never know what to expect from a new team but I've been pleasantly surprised.
"I feel I've become a part of this team in the short period that I've been here."
McLaren were not able to deliver Hamilton a car that was competitive enough to help him defend his world title under 2009's raft of rule changes, although Hamilton eventually went on to take victories in Hungary and Singapore.
However, after turning their attention to this season's MP4-25 car towards the close of the last campaign, Hamilton is confident the team are back on track.
"It's such a pleasure to see the final outcome," said Hamilton, who is preparing for his fourth season with McLaren.
"The car is so different from last year and I'm sure it will handle completely differently.
"We've been working on this car since last season and I feel very proud."
Button's 2009 season could not have been more of a contrast to his new team-mate's as he stormed to six victories in the first seven races in a Brawn that was ahead of the pack.
The 30-year-old said he was optimistic he could continue his good form after starting work at McLaren's base in Woking."
"The start of 2009 was so difficult for them but that's good because it makes them even hungrier for success in 2010," he commented.
This is a very sophisticated car but we think a very elegant one, too
Engineering director Paddy Lowe
"I've spent a lot of time in the simulator and it's all going along smoothly. January has been great but I can't wait until February."
McLaren are the first team to pair back-to-back champions together and the first to field two champions since Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna shared an acrimonious partnership at McLaren in 1989.
It is also the first pairing of two British world champions since Graham Hill joined Jim Clark at Lotus in 1967.
"We expect an exciting season within our team," added Whitmarsh.
"Both drivers are clearly winners and want to win again this year.
"We have prepared for this season more comprehensively than ever before."
McLaren will get the first chance to assess the fruits of their labours during next week's opening winter test in Valencia.
Hamilton will take the wheel on 2 February with Button stepping into the cockpit the following day. Reserve driver Gary Paffett will get the test up and running on Monday.
Ferrari are the only other team to unveil their 2010 car so far and presented a radically redesigned machine in Italy on Thursday as they also aim to put a disappointing 2009 season behind them.
Similarly, McLaren have undertaken an aerodynamic overhaul with the car tapering to a low and narrow rear with a large 'shark fin' wing on the engine cover.
McLaren reveal the front nose of their redesigned challenger for 2010
"When you have not one but two world champions in the car you feel the pressure to get the job done," said Paddy Lowe, engineering director. "This is a very sophisticated car but we think a very elegant one, too."
Lowe said the team were heading into the new season with lots of unknown quantities in the wake of the banning of refuelling and the decision to narrow the width of the front tyres.
"The ban on refuelling has meant a doubling of the fuel tank size, and the cars will be starting the race with 160kg of fuel as opposed to about 80kg or 90kg.
"It's very difficult to anticipate how the front tyres will behave - no one's tested them yet and we have very little time to evaluate that."
The decision to continue with the controversial 'double diffusers' that dominated the headlines last year has also meant all the teams have spent a lot of time optimising that area of their cars.
Ferrari have already said they fear another row over the legality of some teams' interpretation of the rules.
Lowe said McLaren had produced a "fairly extreme incarnation of the double diffuser, but we won't be alone in that. I expect to see that on our competitors' cars as well."
But he said he did not expect there to be any rows over the issue.
"We think the interpretation (of the regulations) is very clear. On certain aspects we have sought guidance from the FIA (F1's governing body) and they have come out with very clear guidance and we think that has been made available to all the teams.
"We're hoping for a cleaner start to the year than last season in terms of what's allowable within the regulations."
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